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Are you looking for a way to stream your locally-saved media directly to your TV? Does the idea of an open-source set-top box with customizable third-party add-ons interest you? If you answered Yes to either of these questions it sounds like you’re in the market for a Kodi box.
We’ve already established that Kodi boxes are legal. If you’re interested in buying one, the next step is determining which one is right for your own personal needs — because everyone is different.
When it comes to Kodi boxes, there are a lot of options on the market. Different boxes suit different usage situations. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to make sense of the vast array of choices. But don’t worry, as MakeUseOf is here to help you make sense of it all.
To make this article easier to digest, we have split it into several different categories. Therefore, we suggest skimming through the article and finding the headline that best describes you before delving deeper into the recommendations.
If You’re New to Kodi…
Are you new to the world of Kodi boxes and keen to see what all the fuss is about?
At this point, you probably neither need or want all of the bells and whistles some of the more extravagant boxes come equipped with. If HD audio isn’t a concern and you haven’t got an AV receiver as part of your home theater setup, you have two main options to choose from.
The Xiaomi Mi Box does a great job of handling Android TV apps. It ships with Marshmallow (meaning it can handle 4K videos) and an AMLogic S905X System-on-Chip (SoC), a necessary component if you’re planning to watch 4K YouTube videos.
It also comes with a Bluetooth voice-powered remote control (so you can use Google Voice to search your Kodi library), and it excels at benchmarking tests.
While the Android features are nice, as a pure Kodi player, WeTek does a great job. It offers Kodi’s dynamic refresh switching and HD deinterlacing.
The WeTek device also comes out on top when assessing connectivity. It features 5 GHz band Wi-Fi support, GigaE video transfer, a serial cable port, and an IR extender cable.
If You Want Pure Kodi…
If you’re a seasoned desktop Kodi user, you might want to replicate the experience as closely as possible on your television.
By choosing one of the following two devices, it’s feasible to have a set-top box that boots directly into the Kodi platform. It’ll feel exactly like using a cable or satellite box so you won’t have any menus or app screens to wade through.
Experts consider the ODROID-C2 to be the most powerful low-cost single board computer on the market. It has a quad-core AmLogic processor and Mali GPU so it can function in many ways. For example, you could set it up as a home automation hub, portable computer, or, in Kodi’s case, as a home theater.
If you take this route, you need to install LibreELEC Kodi on the ODROID’s eMMC flash storage.
The Vero can handle 4K playback, has HD audio, can connect to your other peripherals via both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and is one of the only ARM devices to provide 64-bit architecture. It also has 2 GB of RAM. If you buy a Vero, you need to run OSMC Kodi.
If You Want Versatility…
If you want a box that’s easy to set up and can do almost everything to a high standard, you need an Nvidia Shield.
The Kodi community has considered the Nvidia Shield to be the king of Kodi boxes for a long time now. It can run both Android apps and the Kodi platform in a stable environment.
Because it’s almost plug-and-play (you just need to install the SPMC fork from the Google Play Store), it’s perfect for people who don’t have high levels of tech literacy but still want to enjoy the benefits of Kodi.
It also supports 4K videos on Netflix and Amazon Prime and offers video deinterlacing streaming from a PVR server.
If Money Is No Object…
Have you been a dedicated cord cutter for a number of years? If you’re supremely confident with using Kodi and know exactly how to get the most out of the app, you might want to spend more money on something with more power.
If that’s the case you can’t go wrong with an Intel NUC.
As the name suggests, Intel I Series NUCs are not a single product, but a whole range of products. The cost of units varies dramatically, as does each device’s capabilities.
If you want to experience Kodi in all its glory, aim to buy a sixth-generation device with the Apollo Lake SoC processor or a seventh-generation Kaby Lake processor.
The top-end seventh-generation model, the NUC7I7BNH, comes with an i7 processor, an Iris Plus 650 GPU, 32 GB of RAM, HDMI 2.0, and USB-C. Unfortunately, it will set you back over $400.
If that’s too much money, check out the NUC6I3SYH. It’s only sixth-gen, but at $250 it’s almost half the price of its big brother. It’s got 8 GB of RAM, four USB 3.0 ports, and an HD Graphics 500 GPU.
If You Want Kodi on Your Smart TV…
If you own a smart TV running the Android TV operating system, you’re in luck, because Kodi is available from the Google Play Store (unlike on iOS store, which requires a workaround). This means you can have it up and running in seconds.
There are some caveats, however. Smart TVs are not as powerful as some of the dedicated boxes we have discussed elsewhere in this article, which means they fall short. Here’s where smart TVs come up short from a Kodi standpoint:
- Decoding: Most smart TVs have ARM cores. They’re weak and seriously limit what you can decode within the Kodi app. As such, you’ll be relying on formats Kodi can decode using the Android MediaCodec (AMC). The most common AMC formats are MPEG-2, MPEG-4 Part 2 ASP, H.264/AVC, and H.265/HEVC.
- Audio: TVs normally only have HDMI inputs and no outputs, therefore you will have to use HDMI-ARC audio formats. There will be no HD, Dolby Atmos, or DTS:X audio output.
- 4K Resolution: You can get Kodi to play 4K resolution videos on your smart TV, but you’ll need to enable the MediaCodec Surface Video Acceleration Mode within the Kodi app. It’ll force the TV to render the video output rather than the Kodi software. This setting should also allow for HDR playback.
Bottom Line: Will Kodi work on your Android-based smart TV? Yes. Will the user experience be as good as using a dedicated box? No.
Which Kodi Box Are You Buying?
There you have it: six boxes from six different manufacturers which excel in different areas. Of course, there are lots of other boxes you can choose from, so don’t feel limited by our recommendations.
We’d love to hear your opinions about the ones we’ve covered, but also about the devices we haven’t mentioned. For example, are you a big fan of the MINIX U9 or the HiMedia Q5? Are you using a Chromebox or Chromebit to run Kodi? If so, how are you finding the experience?
Once you have a Kodi device ready to go, check out our guide to setting up Kodi.